Sometimes I think strategic planning is viewed as a luxury. Something you do when you have a lot of extra time on your hands and develop from a very high elevation. But the overall importance of strategic market planning is seldom lost on Chief Executive Officers or their C-Class executes who are in charge of executing the plan.

Whether the plan is more important than the actual implementation is a matter of debate. Recently, in a Linkedin strategy group just this subject was carefully debated. The general conclusion was you need both to do well. This is fine and good and music to my strategic planning ears.

But why do so few companies actually engage in strategic planning? A recent management survey reported that middle-market organizations spend less than one hour a month on their strategic planning. Another recent Harvard Business Review report put the ROI of traditional planning at 34% or less. And many executives report that only 19% of their strategic plans achieve their objectives.

From my consulting perspective, as a provider of strategic planning and development services, I can personally attest that most strategic plans that I am asked to review have never left their owner’s bookshelves; and fewer than 25% have shared any of their planning with their employees. Is it any wonder why so many of these plans never succeed since they are never given the fighting chance they need, or the required funding? And often CEOs don’t execute their own plans!

Companies today have a variety of ways to produce their strategic plan and piles of time to make the concerted effort that is required. But despite a slow-mo economy – that allows companies to carefully rethink their strategies – many companies remain reluctant to actually take the dive into true strategic growth planning. Here are a three simple steps to get you started if you are one of those CEOs that has been putting off preparing your strategic plan or you work for a CEO that needs a gentle nudge.

Step #1: Write a one-sentence description of what your company does that no other company can. This seems rather obvious but test it out for yourself. Ask 10 heads of companies to tell you what their company does in one sentence. Averages are three will be able to and the others will need many more than one sentence. This is because many companies operate without a true point of distinction from their competition in the marketplace. It is truly impressive and refreshing when you meet a CEO who truly understands his company’s distinction who can sum up what they do in one quick sentence. And if they ask you to help them build a particular piece of their stream it is truly a pleasure to contribute. They have thought through their strategic advantage allowing you to focus on the most logical next steps since they have established their primary foundational strategy.

Step #2:  Know your competitors as well as you know your company. This is often ignored during strategic planning, usually because the critical information cannot be found within the company’s walls. It’s easy enough to write down who your competition is and that’s a great first step. But somehow you must find a way of securing their market strategies. Attend tradeshows, conferences, webinars, and online forums that your competition attends. And read their website and blogs along with any white papers they’ve written. Then summarize their key strategies that you pick out. You can tell them by what they repeat. And of course, talk with them in person to gain a feel of their company and personnel. Uncomfortable for some, this is a terrific way of gaining first-hand knowledge of how your competition handles itself in public. This practice can provide tremendous insights when talking to your prospective clients about your company.

Step #3: Prepare why you are uniquely qualified to succeed in one paragraph. The key to defining your success is to not mirror what everyone else is providing. If your company is highly scientific and works in a scientific niche, figure out the one primary benefit that clients will receive from your company that they will not receive with your competition. If this qualification is truly a benefit to your clients you are well on your way to entering a strong strategy zone that you can build on in front of your clients and prospective clients.

The marketplace has been making companies jump through hoops partly because there are so many service providers to choose from and partly because the economy has made them extremely cautious. Companies want to make sure the firms they are hiring and contracting with are expert in their field, their skills are up to date, and they have a strong track record of delivering what they promise. All good practices to keep in mind when developing your company’s strategic market plan.